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U-2 reconnaissance aircraft to aid Japan in earthquake and tsunami relief efforts


March 14, 2011

A U-2 high-altitude, all-weather surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft departs from Osa...

A U-2 high-altitude, all-weather surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft departs from Osan Air Base, South Korea, March 13, 2011, to capture imagery of the earthquake- and tsunami-affected areas of Japan (Image: U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Master Sgt. Paul Holcomb)

As Japan, and indeed the world, struggles to comprehend the devastation resulting from the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that struck on March 11, countries around the world have rushed to offer support in a number of ways. Amongst the aid flowing from the U.S. is a U-2 high-altitude, all-weather surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft that will be used to capture high-resolution, broad area synoptic imagery to help the Japanese identify the location and extent of damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami.

The U-2 aircraft from the 5th Reconnaissance Squadron, which will be used in conjunction with an RQ-4 Global Hawk remotely piloted aircraft from the 9th Operations Group's Detachment 3 at Anderson Air Force Base (AFB) in Guam, will capture imagery using an optical bar camera that, unlike most cameras nowadays, uses traditional film. The camera itself weighs about 300 lbs (136 kg), while the 10,500 feet (3,200 m) of film weighs more than 120 lbs (54 kg). Once the aircraft lands, the film will be shipped to Beale AFB in California, where it will be processed and analyzed by experts.

"The broad, synoptic collection of large land mass and littorals are of great benefit to decision makers. It will aid them in determining locations and extent of damage the earthquake and tsunami have left," " said Lt. Col. Spencer Thomas, the 5th RS commander who likened the imagery to X-rays of a medical injury. "It's like a personal injury; immediately after the event, one must determine where and how they have been injured," he said. "Our mission serves that function."

Once they were notified, Colonel Thomas said it took about 12 hours of planning and preparation to get the aircraft off the ground from Osan Air Base in South Korea on March 13. Because the U-2 flies at altitudes of more than 70,000 feet, the pilot must wear a complete pressure suit similar to those worn by astronauts, meaning the process of preparing the pilot alone takes a couple of hours to complete. From start to finish, the mission is expected to take four to five days.

"I am proud to be part of the humanitarian mission to help our allies," said Staff Sgt. William Ehinger, a U-2 crew chief with the 5th RS. "In fact, all Airmen in the 5th RS are proud to be helping out to provide the data Japan needs to rebuild their country."

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick

Thats a TR-2 not a U2. The U2 was retired years ago. Might seem alike but the TR-2 has the mid wing pods while the U2 has a clean wing.

15th March, 2011 @ 12:03 pm PDT

How much faster could the job get done if we hadn't mothballed the SR-71 and YF-12 planes?

Facebook User
15th March, 2011 @ 11:29 pm PDT

Wragie - The aircraft pictured is a U-2S not the TR-1 (there never was a TR-2 aircraft) The TR-1 was basically the same aircraft as the U-2R. The ER-2 is also the same aircraft but is used by NASA (ER=Earth Resource). The U-2 has never been retired from service since it's inception in August of 1955 but has been continually updated over the years. The "S" model uses the same engine that can be found in the B-2 bomber and has a GPS capability which earlier models did not have. I grew up around these aircraft!

Combat Controller
17th March, 2011 @ 08:44 am PDT

The TR-1 was a renamed U-2 so that our wimpy NATO allies could say that no American spy planes were flying from bases in their countries. The TR-1 was never used to overfly the Soviet Union, they just used high altitude to look well over the border. After the Soviet Union dissolved The USofA Air Force rechristened the remaining TR-1s as U-2s to ease paperwork, and avoid confusion. Even if the plane in the picture was at one time a TR-1 it is now a U-2.

12th November, 2011 @ 10:29 pm PST
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